Down in Flames – Squadron Pack 1: Fighters – Card Game Review
Title: Down in Flames – Squadron Pack 1: Fighters
# Players: 2 or more
Style of Game: Card Wargame
A Plane a Day Keeps the Ack-Ack Away…
If you are unfamiliar with Down in Flames, it is a unique game series which uses cards to portray WWII air combat. Aircraft performance is measured by how many cards you can hold in your hand; the number of cards you can draw is dependent on your aircraft’s horsepower; the number of bursts you can fire in a single turn is dependant on your weaponry, etc. While this might sound a bit abstract, the game is actually fairly realistic, given what it attempts to do. Best of all, it’s a very accessible game that anyone can play – I’ve taught the game to complete novices and had them shooting down Spitfires and Messerschmitts in 15 minutes.
The popularity of the DIF series had led to GMT Games publishing four different titles over the past dozen years:
- Rise of the Luftwaffe (the original, and in some ways still the best of the series)
- 8th Air Force (introduces American planes and German jets, always a fan favorite – requires Rise of the Luftwaffe)
- Zero! (Pacific-theatre combat, featuring very maneuverable Japanese fighters)
- Corsairs & Hellcats (lots of carrier aircraft, more campaigns, requires Zero!)
Additional scenarios and plane cards are available in various issues of GMT’s magazine, C3I – which is where Down in Flames – Squadron Pack 1: Fighters comes in. A sibling publication of C3I, the Squadron Pack offers 8 sheets of ‘cut them out yourself’aircraft. All are professionally printed in full color on heavy cardstock and are of similar quality to recent games in the series.
There are 32 types of aircraft, 64 plane cards in all:
Gladiator Mark II
Fulmar Mark II
Hurricane Mark IIC
Typhoon Mark 1B
Mosquito FB Mk VI
Tempest Mark V
As one would expect from an ongoing series, some of the newer planes have revised official ratings, but there is nothing earth-shattering here. The cover of the pack lists all of the rules appropriate to the planes included, and there is even a new rule for aircraft which use a single heavy cannon.
The Gustav seems to be the only entirely new plane to the series, but even the more mainstream planes, such as the Hurricane Mark IIC and Fw-190F fighters, are a nice addition. But the real value of this pack is having a variety of aircraft for odd campaigns and do-it-yourself air battles. I had a great time playing the Malta air campaign with a friend, because I finally had enough obscure Italian fighters in my DIF set.
All in all, 20 bucks for 64 new Down in Flames aircraft isn’t a bad deal. But the Squadron Pack has the unfortunate aspect of being compared to its sister publication, C3I – also available for $20. For example, issue 17 of C3I has a complete Down in Flames campaign of the air fighting at Dunkirk, along with 3 full-color sheets of DIF plane cards. When you add in that this issue of C3I also has a map and counters for the battle of Cheriton (a new scenario for This Accursed Civil War game), new scenarios for SPQR, War Galley, and Downtown, and the usual mix of analysis articles on various GMT games, it’s obvious that C3I is the better buy.
GMT had to make a decision of what to include in the Squadron Pack, and this is where they must have felt the ‘sweet spot’ was for components at a reasonable price point. Fair enough. If you are new to the series, the Squadron Pack will give you additional plane cards, but without any new scenarios. My suggestion would be to buy both the latest issue of C3I, along with the Squadron Pack, which should keep you busy – at least until the next game in the Down in Flames series comes out.
And for GMT, if this Squadron Pack does well, great for them. But I would hope that at least one campaign was included the next time around, especially for those who don’t have all the games in the DIF series – or all of those back issues of C3I.
Armchair General Score – 80%
35/40 – Gameplay
12/15 – Components
15/20 – Rules/Documentation
11/15 – Replay Value
07/10 – General’s Rating
DiF Squadron Pack 1 – Fighters home.
Terry Lee Coleman is former Senior Reviews Editor of Computer Gaming World magazine. He has written about board and card games for several years in such publications as Fire & Movement, The General, BROG, and others.